Zach Smith on Open Source Manufacturing and RepRap
This July's meeting was refreshingly unique. A project with goals extraordinary. Simply, the bootstrapping of objects by other objects. A thing making another thing, or its own thing. =)
RepRap is an open source project to create a self replicating 3D printing machine. With this machine the goal is to one day be able to automatically create a variety of real objects, including a copy of the machine itself. This technology is the core of something our speaker, Zach Smith likes to call open source manufacturing. The way it works is that you design an object using software, and then the machine takes that design and turns it into a finished product. You can then choose to share your virtual object with anyone in the world.
The first version of the machine is currently under development, but Zach Smith and the rest of the RepRap Project are very close to finished. Basically a Cartesian Robot, a 3D positioning system, moves a print head across a build surface. The print head is a thermoplastic extruder. A custom-built, juiced up hot glue gun. It heats and pushes plastic through a tiny nozzle to form a stream of plastic that is laid down line by line, layer by layer to form a complete object. Voila!
There are 4 main areas in the project, and all are released under the GPL. First, there is the host software that controls the printer, written in Java. Second, there is the firmware, written in C that processes and executes the commands from the host software. Third are the electronics designs, which are used to manufacture the boards. Finally, there are the mechanical designs for the actual printed parts.
The project as a whole spans many disciplines, from software to electronics to mechanics. There is an interesting problem here for everyone, no matter what your skills are.
Points of interest. * A NASA study has concluded that creating a self replicating machine is roughly the same difficulty as creating a Pentium 4 chip. * Currently there are 50-75 people actively attempting to create a RepRap machine. * RepRap hopes to announce successful self-replication by 2008.
3D printing is an amazing technology, and has vast potential. If efforts such as the RepRap project's are successful then anyone that wants a 3D printing device will be able to have one. With all the spectacular implications to our economies and possibly humanity. Far fetched? Pie in the sky?
About Zach Smith: Zach Smith is a 23 year old DNA based self-replicating human. His primary interests are girls, the internet, robots, cool stuff, and making things. His favorite color is green, and he enjoys being alive. He works for an awesome company (Connected Ventures) making an ``awesome website.'' (vimeo.com)